Nature weds with a contemporary aesthetic in Costa Rica.
Text by Kim Vukovich Images courtesy of El Mangroove Residences
Nestled among the magnificent decades-old Cenisaro and Guanacaste trees, gathered around the blue crescent of Costa Rica’s Culebra Bay, lies the El Mangroove, Autograph Collection resort and El Mangroove Residences. Across the sprawling property, modern, clean architectural lines accentuate multilayered textures of rough-hewn stone walls and closely slatted bamboo ceilings.
Rooflines hover above you, extending your view of the surrounding tropical forest, heightening your sense of the expansiveness of the vibrant stretch of island which makes up the country’s luxurious “Gold Coast.”
From a design that weds nature with a contemporary aesthetic to sustainable activities, healthy meals and a setting in the heart of one of the world’s only blue zones, El Mangroove is a design haven with much to offer wellness-minded guests.
In fact, El Mangroove offers guests a rare invitation to enjoy the blue zone lifestyle as a visitor and resident.
On Earth, a mere five blue zones exist — areas where researchers have discovered that people live longer, healthier and happier lives than the average human — and this includes Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula.
In addition to El Mangroove’s luxurious 85-room boutique resort, guests have a more permanent way to immerse themselves in this rare and special corner of Costa Rica.
El Mangroove Residences are among the first privately owned, branded Autograph Collection Residences in the world, creating a unique opportunity for living like a local in one of its 13 private homes.
Designed by award-winning Latin American architects Ronald Zürcher and Jean Garnier, the resort and residences are exclusively and conveniently situated — the country’s closest beach resort to an international airport within 20 minutes — existing as an easily accessed oasis of escape nestled in a tropical forest.
The nature is here, we need to respect it and step back and make the architecture very tranquil.
It was this exceptional location that inspired Zürcher to design the hotel to coexist with the nature of Papagayo.
“I believe that every project belongs to a specific site, so the first thing I do is analyze the region and the specific area to see what the site can tell me,” he explains. “I spend time there and let the place tell me what it’s about. Sometimes it’s about the view, sometimes it’s about the culture, and sometimes it’s very mystic. In Guanacaste, in Papagayo, it was very much about the impressive fauna and flora that is found there.”
One of the immediate things guests will notice when visiting El Mangroove is how Zürcher has planned the design to draw you toward the ocean. As you arrive, the expansive view from the lobby stretches directly out toward the welcoming beach and expansive horizon. Your eye is swept along the elongated edge of the pool’s sparkling surface until it comes to rest on the serene sandy shore.
This dramatic perspective, created by straight lines and distinct angles, is one of the focal points of the hotel’s aesthetic. When planning the placement of the residences, Zürcher took a different approach.
“I studied how the configuration of the residential site plan, historically, has been in Guanacaste,” he says, explaining that a family will normally build an initial house, and when one of the children grows up, they’ll build another house close by, so the houses develop into clusters.
“What is interesting in Guanacaste is that they don’t follow an order or a specific pattern where everything is aligned. They build the houses to configure a courtyard, but the courtyard and the open spaces they leave between their residences are very organic.”
Zürcher points out that the spaces aren’t perfectly round or square because they are formed in relation to the trees that are already standing. For example, the large Guanacaste trees not only provide privacy between the separate residences, but also maintain areas of connection.
“We said, ‘OK, let’s organize the residences in the historical way they did many years ago, leaving these organic communal spaces.’”
To recreate this environment at El Mangroove, the design team analyzed and mapped the existing trees on the site and used this layout to design the spacing between the residences.
Zürcher clarifies that the most important aspect was the nature, not the architecture. “Sometimes with a project, we say, ‘OK, we need to do an iconic architectural design for some reason,’ but in this particular case the nature was so important, the Guanacaste trees are so impressive, that you cannot compete with that. We had to say, ‘The nature is here, we need to respect it and step back and make the architecture very tranquil.’”
Another way Zürcher incorporated nature into the design of El Mangroove was the use of environmentally friendly methods of ambient cooling as an alternative to obligatory air conditioning. The team planned the residences to efficiently use cross-ventilation concepts and to take full advantage of the generous shade given by the native trees.
Similarly, throughout the hotel, a key design feature is the open walkways that connect the public spaces and the private rooms.
As you stroll back from breakfast at the poolside restaurant, meandering down the path toward your room, you’re surrounded by the sights and sounds of the tropical forest on full display: The salty ocean breeze rustles through the trees, the warm sunlight dapples your skin as you move in and out of the shade, and the soft warbling of birdsong drifts down from the branches above.
As you enter your room, you’re initially welcomed into a private, open-air terrace.
“As part of the sequence, I wanted guests to enjoy the natural feel of the place in their own open space,” Zürcher explains.
The terrace is furnished comfortably with a stylish seating area that offers the perfect setting for either sharing a cool drink together or a quiet moment communing with nature. Beyond this private terrace, glass doors open into an artfully and serenely designed air-conditioned bedroom and bathroom area for guests’ comfort and privacy.